Mixed messages about food in the media lead to poor public health, warns chief nutritionist

Mixed messages from inaccurate media reporting are confusing the public as to what constitutes a healthy diet and represent a risk to health, Public Health England (PHE) has warned.

Mixed messages on nutrition lead to confusion and poor public health, warns PHE's Alison Teadstone
Mixed messages on nutrition lead to confusion and poor public health, warns PHE's Alison Teadstone
The health body’s chief nutritionist, Dr Alison Tedstone, has revealed how she is "often asked what we’re doing about confusing messages in the media about nutrition, which lead to an incorrect assumption that official advice is always changing".

She cited how there are numerous examples of stories "promoting new diets and differing nutrition advice from ‘experts’, often contradicting previous coverage on another study".

Tedstone commented: "This is a challenge to public health as confusion and misunderstanding will only lead to poorer health for the UK population."

She added: "It would be easy to criticise the PR people at the institutions producing new research, or the media, for sensationalising, overblowing or misleading with its output."

But this is not the answer, according to the senior nutritionist. Comms professionals and journalists are "both under pressure to get their content noticed".

This means that consistency is the key when it comes to communicating advice. "It's important that we keep making the point that any one study, no matter how good it is, is highly unlikely to lead to a change in government advice on its own."

However, this is set against a context of "countless" studies that are "presented in a way that could confuse the public into thinking advice needs changing".

Tedstone remarked that "the circus surrounding diet reporting may actually undermine confidence in long standing and very carefully considered evidence-based, dietary advice, and encourage unhealthy diet choices".

Writing in a post on the PHE blog last week, she stated: "What we all need is advice that reflects the best available evidence, reported and interpreted accurately in helpful and meaningful terms… what the public don’t need is sensationalist headlines that make them question well-considered advisory messages."

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